Thoughts on genre, language, grammar, and other
rhetorical and linguistic norms
rhetorical and linguistic norms
In 2016, I wrote about how we celebrate Labor Day, and how far it has moved away for many people from the origins of the holiday in the labor movement and celebrating workers. Instead, Labor Day for many had become a day of sales and shopping, as well as barbecues, requiring even more low-paid workers to work on a holiday.
Have things changed for Labor Day in the midst of a pandemic?
What Labor Day was
The origins of Labor Day in the US haven't changed, and I have to honor Labor Day by starting with the original meaning of Labor Day, as a day to celebrate workers grounded in the labor movement.
As I wrote in 2016, my genre-colored glasses let me see the origins of Labor Day through its genres--union charters, picket signs, and protest songs, as well as official proclamations and Senate bills. Those genres reveal the actions people took to make Labor Day happen.
The first Labor Day was called in New York City in 1882 when the Central Labor Union organizers declared a strike to get workers the day off. Jay Zagorsky in The Conversation recounts the origins of Labor Day in labor unions.
The founders were looking for two things: a means of unifying union workers and a reduction in work time.
In 1894, President Grover Cleveland in the US signed the Senate bill making Labor Day a national holiday for federal workers. For a bit more of the history behind Labor Day, check out the Department of Labor's brief history, or watch History's youtube video.
So how will Labor Day be celebrated in 2020, in the midst of a pandemic?
Surely we are more aware of the value of workers who have provided essential labor at their own risk in grocery stores, as delivery drivers, food suppliers, and essential workers of all kinds.
Surely this is a moment to support all unionized workers and advocate for improving wages and working conditions of those workers we depend on.
As Leslie Nielsen in the movie Airport said, " Don't call me Shirley."
Labor Day is still some days away, so maybe new things will still happen. But so far, all I see are the same genres, the same actions as usual—and even fewer of those that celebrate workers.
What Labor Day is
Giant Labor Day Sale!!!
Sale, Labor Day only!
Labor Day Weekend Sale!!!!!
Behind every one of those ads is a group of workers having to work on Labor Day. Labor Day is supposed to mean a day away from labor, recognizing and rewarding those who have labored for us. Not a day they should labor harder
So much for our recognizing the value of essential workers during the pandemic. So much for appreciating and rewarding those who risk their health so others can shop the sales.
Even if more people do their Labor Day sale shopping online, online stores require workers, and most stores have been reopened and need workers physically present.
Barbecues, speeches, parades, oh my!
Maybe there will be fewer family barbecues if people follow health guidelines (please do stay physically distant and avoid larger gatherings!)
But that also means fewer or smaller gatherings of union members.
Fewer or smaller parades honoring workers.
Fewer speeches recognizing and applauding workers.
Traditionally, the president delivers a Labor Day address. FDR in 1941 praised the value of workers in winning the war. Obama in 2016 described what his administration had done to improve working conditions.
Will the current president even give a Labor Day address? My search of the White House website found proclamations issued in late August before each Labor Day in 2018 and 2019, though I could find none for 2017. But no speeches.
A duckduckgo search for "Obama Labor Day speech" found many links, including YouTube videos of his Labor Day speeches. The same search for "Trump Labor Day speech" found a few speeches, but none marked as Labor Day speeches or apparently any given on a Labor Day.
So maybe more than the pandemic makes this Labor Day different from ones in the before-times.
What Labor Day can be
In a time when jobs are scarce and unemployment is high, in a time when low-wage jobs carry even greater risk to workers, we should all be more aware than ever of the value of labor. We should all be even more aware of the value of labor unions. Even my own (pre-retirement) job as a university professor, as privileged as it was, carries with it now additional labor and additional risks, adding even more reasons to unionize.
So Labor Day during a pandemic is different in some ways—more reasons to value labor, fewer occasions recognizing labor.
And Labor Day during a pandemic is the same in some ways—sales, ads, and business as usual.
But we can do something to recognize Labor Day differently ourselves during a pandemic
And if you’re a worker who has been putting yourself at risk in your job, I thank you. If you’re a worker who has to work on Labor Day, I thank you.
To all of you, dear readers, I say take care of yourselves. Skip the Labor Day gatherings. No barbecues or picnics except in households. Stay physically distant. Wear a mask.
Labor Day can remind us, as does the pandemic, that we are all in this together. An injury to one is an injury to all
My last post, on my starting retirement, must not have modelled clear communication since I’ve received several responses that make me think I miscommunicated—badly. So this post is to clarify. Please read so I can do a better job of telling you what I think, plan, and want, including what I want from you!
I started the last post with a list of things I won’t do anymore, including department meetings, paper grading, but also office hours and feedback on student drafts. To clarify—These are things I will not have the opportunity to do anymore because I won’t be working in a job as a professor/teacher anymore. These are NOT all things I don’t WANT to do anymore. Regular citizens don’t get asked to grade papers very often, and students aren’t lining up at their office hours, even if they do hold them.
I loved my work as a professor, and I loved most of the things I did. I loved teaching and interacting with students. I loved research and writing, even when it was really hard.
Some version of some of those things will continue now that I am retired. I am continuing to lead seminars and workshops on writing, and I will continue exploring other ways I can teach and interact with people who want to learn and discover with me, including being a student myself. I will continue to write, though I expect the nature of my research to change from more scholarly topics to more everyday life. I am keeping open to all possibilities of how I might continue with some of that work I loved, just in a different form and with less time pressure.
Which leads me to the second clarification: I am not at a loss for what to do, and I don’t see retirement as nothing but not doing things. I am definitely looking forward to having more space and time, and I am looking forward to having more freedom to decide what I most want to spend that time on. But I know that I will be busy, probably happily so. I will sign on to doing things because I want to do them, and those will create some obligations for me. But I am hoping to spend my time on new obligations I choose to take on. Many of the old obligations, again, were ones I enjoyed—meeting with students, designing classes and syllabuses, writing my blog, and more. Finding new versions of those old obligations will be a pleasure, not a duty.
I’m sure there is more that I need to clarify. The initial post was a rare one that I wrote quickly, within a couple of hours, and posted without asking my trusted reader to give me feedback first. That will teach me. Let that be a lesson to us all! Reread and revise more than once. Get others to read drafts and revise after considering what those trusted readers say. And listen to the feedback you receive after you publish, as I’ve done. Fortunately, a blog permits follow-up posts and clarifications. Phew. [adding comment August 7 to note that several readers have since written to tell me they found the first post perfectly clear!]
I hope this clarifies what you might have been thinking about after reading the original post. Please let me know if not. I am sad to say good-bye to many of the things I have done for 38 years as a professor. I plan to stay even more active and to say yes to many new challenges as a retiree. And I definitely want to keep interacting with you, dear reader, either through this blog or Twitter or emails or other opportunities we discover we share.
Our adventures continue…
I am retiring today.
Today is the day I stop working for my employer.
Do those statements say the same thing?
I hadn’t noticed any difference until I told someone I was retiring and they responded with “Oh July 31 is your last day of working for KU.”
There is a difference.
I could go on working for others, I may continue consulting, I could continue writing and publishing. I’m just not working for my current employer anymore.
That’s the big decision with retirement. Are you going to continue doing work-like things, or are you going to shift gears more drastically? Are you going to stop working for your employer, or are you going to stop working?
I know of one professor who “retired” a few years ago and has been busy writing textbooks and working with publishers and visiting colleges to give lectures and workshops. She is reportedly happy.
I know of another professor who “retired” around the same time to a horse ranch in Montana. Not a bit of academic work since. She is reportedly happy.
Friends sent me a greeting card that said,
“Know the secret to having a happy retirement?”
Inside: “Don’t go to work anymore.”
So I won’t go to work anymore. But am I going to work anymore?
What I won’t do anymore (genre-style):
Scholarly articles (except proofing two that are in the process of being published)
Conference talks (unless the postponed one from pandemic 2020 repeats in 2021, which I doubt right now, end of July 2020)
Curriculum design (except for consulting seminars and webinars)
Lesson plans (except for plans for consulting seminars and webinars)
Letters of recommendation (except for former students)
Meetings with graduate students (except former ones who want advice over coffee or a drink)
OK, wait, that list isn’t going as planned. Let me try again…
What I definitely won’t do anymore (genre-style):
Teaching observation reports
Teaching advisor meetings
Student progress reports
Department committee meetings
Committee election ballots
Daily course schedules
Feedback on student drafts
Blackboard course sites
Promotion and tenure votes
Faculty application files
Annual merit portfolio
What I definitely will do from now on (genre-style):
TBD To Be Determined
It’s not that I have no idea what I’ll do. It’s that I have so many choices in this new freedom.
The genres I’ll choose to do from now on are less well-known since I haven’t spent the last 35 (38 total) years writing them, reading them, creating them, joining them, participating in them.
What I probably won’t do (genre-style):
As you can see, retirement and pandemic have collided in my timing (and that of many others). That timing makes this retirement even more unknown than usual, I suspect.
As you can see, pandemic or not, I am retiring, not just no longer working for my employer.
I’m not going to work anymore, and I’m not going to work anymore
Even if I write, teach a seminar or workshop, or meet with a former student, I intend to do nothing that I would see as work. I plan to try new things, return to old favorites, let myself play and explore.
I can make that choice, putting me in a very privileged position.
I am also in a very privileged position because I had a job that I loved for 35 years, working with good colleagues and wonderful students, and doing good work. The list of what I will miss would be a long one.
So as of August 1, 2020, I am retired.
I’ll let you know in a year what retirement becomes for me, genre-style
And how to update the genre and everything will still be okay
I’ve been wanting to write about the genre of Hallmark Christmas movies for a while now. Thanks to Hallmark for their big blunder with pulling an ad—and now changing their decision—to get me to write this post with a new take.
First, in case you skip all news Hallmark, the recent controversy
Hallmark has been running an ad for Zola Inc, a wedding planning company, that includes a same-sex couple. Apparently, the sight of two women kissing in wedding attire was too much for delicate conservative constitutions, and Hallmark pulled the ad December 12. Fortunately, they announced December 15 that they had made the wrong decision and were reinstating the ad. Social media and inclusion win again (whether you buy Hallmarks’ contrition or not). Yay!
Still, not all is inclusive in Hallmark land
Hallmark Christmas movies have never been known for their inclusiveness, and they definitely present one worldview of women and men, family, the value of work, and love.
Allow me to present the genre of Hallmark Christmas movies
An attractive young woman (usually with long hair and carefully curled waves) leads a busy life in the big city, working too many hours but on the rise in her profession (architect, lawyer, designer, chef—no teachers that I can remember). She is unmarried, of course, though she may be engaged to a big city workaholic guy.
Something happens to call her home to the small town she grew up in (she inherits her aunt’s B&B, tries to save her father’s Christmas tree farm from bankruptcy). Or she is sent to a small town for her job (she’s assigned to buy up the land for their new resort, has to decorate the boss’s vacation house for Christmas, is planning the wedding of the century). Very occasionally, workaholic woman already lives in small town, but the genders in that version have been largely reversed in more recent years.
In any case, big city workaholic arrives in Podunk town with a job to do.
The Podunk town is inevitably charming. Its main street is filled with thriving local stores (the town bakery, small bookstore, coffee shop) and bustling with locals on the sidewalks, all greeting each other with smiles. There is snow on the street and at the curbs, but never enough to make the sidewalks slippery or the streets unsafe to drive (or even to cover the tops of cars usually, my partner would want me to point out). Any major snowstorm waits until our heroine and her new love interest are safely ensconced in a cabin in the woods, alone.
About that Love Interest
He is the local boy, tall and handsome and good with his hands (in a handyman kind of way, not a handsy kind of way. This is Hallmark, after all). He might be fixing the porch railings on that B&B, or hauling Christmas trees to customers’ cars, or carving wooden gnomes in the barn. He works with his hands, not his brain. He likely has a daughter, a cute young 6- or 7- or 8-year old girl in pigtails whose mother died tragically of cancer or in a car accident. Having learned the true meaning of life, he’s happy with his small-town life, its slower pace, and its values.
In sharp contrast to our heroine’s current fiancé
Our Hallmark heroine either resists all close human interaction in favor of her ambition or has an equally ambitious fiancé. He stays behind in the big city (at least in the first hour of the movie) for work. If she has no current love interest, it’s usually because she’s been hurt, or her parent died when she was young, or she’s afraid to get close to anyone again. If she has a fiancé, he’s usually just like her at the beginning—ambitious, working too many hours, thinking only of making money and getting ahead. Their apartments in the big city (never a house) are always streamlined contemporary stainless steel and glass with lots of leather furniture, with huge walls of windows showing city lights and a kitchen that no one seems ever to have cooked in.
Until current fiancé arrives in small town as a surprise (or early), only to discover that our heroine has meanwhile fallen for the local handsome handyman. Thanks to his influence, and all the townspeople she meets (usually including at least one older woman with gray hair and a rounder body who offers wise words about what’s really important in life—or a similar man who is clearly secretly Santa), our heroine has begun to change her values. She learns the joy of baking Christmas cookies together, of saving the historic building rather than tearing it down, of putting family ornaments on a Christmas tree, of playing in the snow with Love Interest’s delightful little girl. She has learned to slow down and value human connection over human ambition.
What happens next??
Poor dumb fiancé, who did nothing wrong but fit into our heroine’s old way of life, gets kicked to the curb. Often abruptly. Sometimes he does something that makes us glad she dumped him, but just as often he’s an okay guy who just wants different things. The things she used to want.
Something happens to let our heroine stay in the small town. She takes over the family Christmas tree farm or B&B, buys the local bakery, gets a job in the big city nearby, or follows her dream to the writing or crafting or house decorating she has always wanted to do and becomes a small-town entrepreneur.
And of course she and the Love Interest hook up. Well, no, they don’t. They kiss, which seems to be the same thing in a Hallmark movie. Often they kiss as the very last scene, with snow falling gently around them and music rising to greet them. Or maybe in front of the family room Christmas tree with delightful daughter and wise old family members looking on.
And they live happily ever after.
Are you surprised? Yeah, I didn’t think so
What doesn’t happen
Our Love Interest doesn’t move to the big city with our heroine so that she can take that big promotion she was offered. Usually, his work doesn’t change at all, unless his gnome carving saves the family tree farm from bankruptcy
Our Love Interest is not African American, or Latino, or Native American, or anything other than snow white. The best friend might be a person of color, but we learn nothing about her except that she listens well and advises our heroine to follow her heart
And our heroine definitely doesn’t fall in love with the local handy-woman, leading to the two brides softly kissing at the end
And now for the parody
It may have sounded like a parody, but my description so far includes story elements from actual movies. Saturday Night Live, though, did do a parody, offering a Hallmark game show that demonstrated that the goal of every woman is to be husbanded
Why does anyone watch?
To be able to recount the genre so fully, I forced myself to watch a lot of Hallmark Christmas movies. It was tough, but somebody had to do it.
In truth, I’m confessing my shameful secret—that I’ve watched those movies for a few years now. The feminist me blushes as I admit the truth. I’m well aware of how they reduce women and men to caricatures, insist that women value family and marriage over work or adventure, idealize small town life and demonize big cities. And so much more.
But they also make life seem simpler for the moment, tug at the heartstrings of our childhoods and love for family or friends, and assure us that everything works out at the end.
Suggestions for Hallmark
So thanks to Hallmark for apologizing and returning to valuing all people and all kinds of love. Now they just need to update their Hallmark Christmas movie. After all, every genre changes as the world in which it exists changes.
So let’s have a Hallmark Christmas movie with a same-sex couple.
And couples of multiple races and identities.
And heroines and Love Interests who weigh more than 100 pounds.
And live with disabilities
And older than 25. Heck, maybe even older than 55! or 65!!
Let’s see the couple work out creative solutions for maintaining purposeful jobs while staying together. Let’s hear them discuss how they’re going to pay the bills if she quits her job to make Christmas cookies
Let’s recognize the economic realities of small towns and show the townspeople struggling to make jobs for the heroine (or their college-educated children) to return to
Everything can still end happily at the end. I don’t want to take away the guilty pleasure of a simple story that shows everything will be okay.
But Hallmark could reduce the guilt part with a few tweaks to fit the genre into the current world. That’s what genres do
The heroine can still have long hair with waves curled just so. And the snow can still look pretty without being slippery. And the movie can end with a kiss.
It can be just as romanticized as that Zola ad. And everything will still be okay